The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Sengoku Collection

Title: Sengoku Collection
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Company: Brains Base
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 6 Apr 2012 – 28 Sep 2012

Synopsis: Sengoku-era warlord Oda Nobunaga is transported from her universe to a dimension that contains the modern world. She roams the world in search of her comrades and enemies from the same era, who have also transported to our world and have secret treasures, which, if all are collected, can grant access back to their home world.

The Highlights
Premise: Generic and silly. The best episodes rarely deal with it for more than a minute.
Writing: Solid and tight in many episodes. Rarely wastes a second.
Style: Delves into a wide variety of genres and visual styles.
Episode 18: One of the best, most emotional episodes of any anime in 2012.

Sengoku Collection is one of the best anime of 2012. It’s weird to see that written out, isn’t it? This anime seems primed to be generic: It’s yet another show about Sengoku-era warlords (genderbent warlords, even!) and has a premise screaming to be made into lazy Monster of the Week stories. It would be easy for Brains Base to be trapped by convention; instead, the creative team takes this setup as a signal for freedom. Because the basis for the overall plot is so light and silly and told so easily and simply, the creators are freed to make the series about whatever they want. Brains Base uses that opportunity to make something beautiful, charming and fun.

The most enjoyable episodes of Sengoku Collection often deal with the main plot in a perfunctory way; it’s advanced as much as it needs to be and no more. The rest of the time is dedicated to standalone stories that are tight and well constructed. Telling a good story in 20 minutes is an art; it’s practically a miracle that Sengoku Collection achieves this as often as it does. The plot development and visual and aural storytelling of the best episodes let the audience know exactly what needs to be known in the most efficient way possible while still hitting the proper emotional core.

An excellent example of this is episode 18, which is one of the best, most emotional episodes of anime in 2012. It follows a lonely woman who works in a factory and lives alone in an apartment in a bad part of a bad town. Because she is desperate to form a connection with someone, she writes a letter and sends it in the mail in the hopes that it will make it to someone. It does. I won’t spoil it from here, except to say that the developments are joyous and heartbreaking, charming and melancholy. There’s an economy of storytelling at work in this episode that moves the story at just the right pace so that it feels emotionally satisfying without being overly manipulative. I can’t remember the last time I cried watching anything, much less an anime, but I shed a few tears at the end of this episode.

But Sengoku Collection doesn’t just tug at the heartstrings; several episodes are quite silly and fun, and had me doubled over with laughter. One of the very best is episode 23, which is an homage to Legend of the Galactic Heroes that takes place at a daycare. It hits every familiar beat of that OVA perfectly (complete with narrator who puts the episode’s events in their proper historical perspective), but it’s more than a simple riff; the story and characters are lifted by the use of homage rather than slaves to it, and they become funnier and more memorable because of it. It’s a familiar story type — children putting on the airs of the adult world while still being obviously children — but executed in a fresh, hilarious way.

This is a common refrain throughout Sengoku Collection. One of the aspects of the series that becomes more obvious by the episode is that each story is either inspired by or has some reference to a piece of world cinema. I first became suspicious of this in episode four, which is basically an homage to yakuza and prison break cinema. My suspicions were confirmed in episode five, which is a riff on Michael Moore‘s Bowling for Columbine. Brains Base draws upon a wide variety of films, and as a result episodes leap from genre to genre. For instance, episode five is a documentary, episode six is science-fiction, episode seven is a family drama, and episode eight is an Alice in Wonderland-type story. The series could easily feel schizophrenic, but the feel of each episode is so distinct and unique that there is no emotional whiplash. If you’re familiar with what’s being referenced, it’s a true joy to see how the themes and visual styles of each film inform what plays out in each episode.

Of course, that’s not to say the stories aren’t enjoyable if the film references go over your head. There are several episodes where I couldn’t suss out the influence but the stories were nonetheless enjoyable. However, not every episode is a hit. Some stories, particularly in the beginning, are simply not interesting. However, I enjoyed most episodes because there is a base level of charm to the series, and because the art is so bright, colorful and enchanting, particularly in the backgrounds. Sengoku Collection isn’t an animation powerhouse by any means, but it does clearly show the difference between good art and good animation.

Sengoku Collection is probably the biggest surprise of 2012. Few people gave it the time of day while it aired due to its ridiculous premise and rough beginning — I should know, because I was one of those who was converted after repeated praise during its run. This series is a great indicator of why imagination and execution matters so much more than premise. Sengoku Collection deserves many more viewers than it has.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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